Australia/Oceania is the smallest of the seven continents on Earth.
The first people to discover and settle Australia about 50,000 years ago were the ancestors of the Aboriginal Australians.
The discovery by the Europeans was a long time coming. It was not until 1606 that Dutch and Spanish explorers landed on the continent. In 1770 James Cook, a colorful figure in British colonial history, was in search for the predicted Great South Land. He came across a vast stretch of unknown land when he arrived on the east coast of Australia, and in the usual blunt British fashion, he claimed the territory for the British Crown.
Between 1788 and 1868 the British used Australia as a penal colony. Australia became independent from the UK in several stages, only on the 3rd March 1986, Australia achieved complete independence from Britain.
Including the adjacent island of Tasmania, Australia covers an area of 7,692,024 km² (2,969,907 sq mi), which corresponds to about 5.6% of Earth's landmass. In comparison, Australia is slightly smaller than the contiguous United States. One country, Australia, occupies the continent.